What You Need to Know About Radon


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says January is National Radon Action Month, making it the perfect time of year to get up-to-speed on this important topic. So, if you aren’t familiar with radon, you should know it’s a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas. It’s also the #2 cause of lung cancer, and it could be in your home. What else do you need to know? Read on!

Where does radon come from?

The American Cancer Society says, “Radon forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements, such as uranium, which are found at different levels in soil and rock throughout the world. Radon is present outdoors and indoors. It is normally found at very low levels in outdoor air and in drinking water from rivers and lakes. It can be found at higher levels in the air in houses and other buildings, as well as in water from underground sources, such as well water.”

Radon levels can vary during the year, but they are usually highest during the coldest winter months, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

What does radon do?

Radon decays into solid, radioactive elements called radon progeny, according to the American Cancer Society. Radon progeny can attach to dust and other particles, which can be breathed into the lungs. “As radon and radon progeny in the air break down, they give off alpha particles, a form of high-energy radiation that can damage the DNA inside the body’s cells.”

The EPA says radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

Where do you find radon inside?

Radon gas given off by soil or rock can enter buildings through cracks in floors or walls, construction joints or gaps in foundations around pipes, wires or pumps. The EPA says radon levels are usually highest in the basement or in crawl spaces, which are closest to the soil or rock where radon exists. Because of this, people who spend greater amounts of time in basements have a greater risk for being exposed. However, radon can be found in other building levels and rooms, too.

The EPA estimates as many as 8 million homes throughout the country have elevated levels of radon. But, the EPA says, “You cannot predict radon levels based on state, local, and neighborhood radon measurements. Do not rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your home. Homes which are next to each other can have different radon levels.”

What about testing?

According to the EPA, “Testing is the only way to find out what your home’s radon level is.” Since there are no immediate symptoms that will alert you to the presence of radon, not only the EPA, but the Surgeon General, American Lung Association, American Medical Association and National Safety Council all recommend testing homes for radon.

While periodic testing is always advised, you should test when you first purchase a new home. Eric Boll of Pillar to Post Home Inspections says, “When I arrange an inspection, I always ask the client if they want a radon test. I explain that in Northern Virginia, a significant percentage of homes have radon levels higher than the EPA recommended mitigation level, which is 4 p/Ci/L.”

A radon level of 4 pCi/L means there are approximately nine atomic disintegrations per minute per liter of air. This might not sound like a lot, but when it comes to radon, every atom counts.

What about mitigation?

Mitigation is a method used to reduce radon concentrations. Mitigation of radon in the air is accomplished through ventilation or by increasing the air changes per hour in the building.

Boll says, “People often ask how hard it is to mitigate radon and how much it costs. They hear it’s a radioactive gas, so naturally, they’re worried. The good news is that mitigation is generally quite easy. In this area, typical mitigation cost is on the order of $800 to $1200, though each instance differs. In rare cases, you’ll need two systems installed in a house.”

Boll says an added benefit of having a radon mitigation system is that moisture vapor also gets vented, leading to a dryer basement.

For more information on radon, radon testing and radon mitigation, contact Pillar to Post Home Inspections at 703-657-3207 or eric.boll@pillartopost.com.

For other information on radon, see the Virginia Department of Health http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/radiologicalhealth/radon/index.htm and EPA http://www.epa.gov/radon/index.html.